The 1968 presidential election was a disaster for the Democrats, largely as a result of their nomination process. In an unusual turn of events, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey won the nomination without having entered any of the primaries. At the convention, Humphrey garnered all his support from unpledged delegates (delegates who were not directed to vote for a particular candidate through the primary process). The result of this disregard for the party’s popular choice was a convention that ended in disarray and a badly divided Democratic Party. Student groups protested the convention, resulting in violent clashes in the streets with police.
To prevent the events of 1968 from happening again, the Democrats established the Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection, which came to be known informally as the McGovern-Fraser Commission. The purpose of the commission was to design rules intended to broaden participation in the Democratic primary process. In particular, the new rules emphasized the need for broader representation of traditionally minority groups and other groups that had been shut out of the convention process. The commission eventually met seventeen times between 1969 and 1972 and ultimately produced a report called “Mandate for Reform.” The rules set by the commission would go into effect for the 1972 primary season.
Source: Senator George McGovern (SD), “Mandate for Reform,” Congressional Record, part 2, 92 (September 22, 1971), pp. 32915-32917. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/GPO-CRECB-1971-pt25/pdf/GPT-CRECB-1971-pt25-3-3.pdf
Part II—The Guidelines
A–1 Discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, or national origin
The 1964 Democratic National Convention adopted a resolution which conditioned the seating of delegations at future conventions on the assurance that discrimination in any State Party affairs on the grounds of race, color, creed or national origin did not occur.… In 1966, the Special Equal Rights Committee, which had been created in 1964, adopted six. . .antidiscrimination standards—designated as the “six basic elements”—for the State Parties to meet….
These actions demonstrate the intention of the Democratic Party to ensure a full opportunity for all minority group members to participate in the delegate selection process….
A–2 Discrimination on the basis of age or sex
The Commission believes that discrimination on the grounds of age or sex is inconsistent with full and meaningful opportunity to participate in the delegate selection process. Therefore, the Commission requires State Parties to eliminate all vestiges of discrimination on these grounds. Furthermore, the Commission requires State Parties to overcome the effects of past discrimination by affirmative steps to encourage representation on the national delegation of young people … and women in reasonable relationship to their presence in the population of the State.…
A–5 Existence of party rules
In order for rank-and-file Democrats to have a full and meaningful opportunity to participate in the delegate selection process, they must have access to the substantive and procedural rules which govern the process. In some States the process is not regulated by law or rule, but by resolution of the State Committee and by tradition. In other States, the rules exist, but generally are inaccessible. In still others, rules and laws regulate only the formal aspects of the selection process (e.g., date and place of the State convention) and leave to Party resolution or tradition the more substantive matters (e.g., intrastate apportionment of votes; rotation of alternates; nomination of delegates). The Commission believes that any of these arrangements is inconsistent with the spirit of the Call in that they permit excessive discretion on the part of Party officials, which may be used to deny or limit full and meaningful opportunity to participate. Therefore, the Commission requires State Parties to adopt and make available readily accessible statewide Party rules and statutes which prescribe the State’s delegate selection process with sufficient details and clarity.…
B–2 Clarity of purpose
An opportunity for full participation in the delegate selection process is not meaningful unless each Party member can clearly express his preference for candidates for delegates to the National Convention, or for those who will select such delegates. In many States, a Party member who wishes to affect the selection of the delegates must do so by voting for delegates or Party officials who will engage in many activities unrelated to the delegate selection process. Whenever other Party business is mixed, without differentiation, with the delegate selection process, the Commission requires State Parties to make it clear to voters how they are participating in a process that will nominate their Party’s candidate for President. Furthermore, in States which employ a convention or committee system; the Commission requires State Parties to clearly designate the delegate selection procedures as distinct from other Party business.
B–6 Adequate representation of minority views on presidential candidates at each stage in the delegate selection process
The Commission believes that a full and meaningful opportunity to participate in the delegate selection process is precluded unless the presidential preference of each Democrat is fairly represented at all levels of the process. Therefore, the Commission urges each State Party to adopt procedures which will provide fair representation of minority views on presidential candidates and recommends that the 1972 Convention adopt a rule requiring State Parties to provide for the representation of minority views to the highest level of the nominating process. The Commission believes that there are at least two different methods by which a State Party can provide for such representation. First, in at-large elections it can divide delegate votes among presidential candidates in proportion to their demonstrated strength. Second, it can choose delegates from fairly apportioned districts no larger than congressional districts.
C–4 Premature delegate selection (timeliness)
The 1968 Convention adopted language adding to the Call to the 1972 Convention the requirement that the delegate selection process much begin within the calendar year of the Convention. In many States, Governors, State Chairmen, State, district and county committees who are chosen before the calendar year of the Convention, select—or choose agents to select —the delegates. These practices are inconsistent with the Call. The Commission believes that the 1968 Convention intended to prohibit any untimely procedures which have any direct bearing on the process by which National Convention delegates are selected. The process by which delegates are nominated is such a procedure. Therefore, the Commission requires State Parties to prohibit any practices by which official elected or appointed before the calendar year choose nominating committees or propose or endorse a slate of delegates— even when the possibility for a challenge to such slate or committee is provided. When State law controls, the Commission requires State Parties to make all feasible efforts to repeal, amend, or modify such laws to accomplish the stated purposes.
- What reforms are proposed by the McGovern-Fraser Commission Report to correct perceived defects in the nomination process? Does the shift to primaries really produce better nominees than conventions? Have these reforms worked?
- Does the McGovern-Fraser Commission bring to fulfillment the goal of the Progressives (Progressive Party Platform 1912)?